We pick up our story shortly after Steve returned to California from his Hawaiian trip with George Eiferman and Les and Pudgy Stockton. He was now more focused than ever on getting that big break in show business and keeping in the best shape possible.
He was working out at Vic Tanney's gym in Santa Monica and landed several cameo guest appearances on television.
He appeared every couple of months on such top shows as "The Dinah Shore Show," "Topper" "Red Skelton," "The Ozzie and Harriet Show," and "Burns & Allen to name a few. Besides the TV appearances, Steve continued working part-time parking cars and helping out at his friend's gas station.
During the summer of 1949, Steve was hired as the fitness instructor for Bernarr MacFadden at the Arrowhead Springs Hotel in Lake Arrowhead, California, a mountain resort about 90 miles east of Los Angeles in the San Bernadino Mountains. So Steve jumped into his beautiful 1946 green Buick Roadmaster convertible and left Santa Monica for his new job in Lake Arrowhead.
As the fitness instructor, Steve would arise each morning at 6 am and lead the guests in the 'morning song," followed by stretches and callisthenics. After that, he led them on hikes and guided them on trail rides.
Bernarr MacFadden was quite an interesting character. He wore custom-made shoes that had strips of metal in the soles that touched the bottom of his feet and the ground as he walked. Bernarr believed the shoes were a means of maintaining a connection with the earth's magnetism.
After working there for three months, MacFadden added "dancing with the ladies" in the evening to Steve's duties. Steve informed him that he could do either the early morning routine or the evening dances, but not both. MacFadden could not understand why Steve was opposed to doing both, and insisted that he do it all. Steve told him that under those circumstances he would have to quit, and he did.
Back in Los Angeles, Steve met a gentleman who wanted to cast him in the lead role of a television plot entitled, "Kimbar, Lord of the Jungle." The project was to be financed by this 24-year-old soon-to-be movie producer. He was using the money he had inherited from his late aunt's estate to fund the project. He covered the entire sum needed to produce the 15-minute pilot. The producer convinced the investor that this move would make him a bundle of money! In those days, everyone was shooting 15-minute episodes, which is why the pilot was that length, a decision the producer would later regret.
The pilot was shot in about a week in the San Fernando Valley, around ten miles north of Hollywood, where many of the old westerns were filmed in the thirties and forties. Steve found it was really interesting working in a film with live, wild animals. All the stunts were performed by Steve, never a stunt double, and he did what was needed to get the job done.
One day, Steve was wearing sandals on the set and unknowingly cut his foot while running through the brush. In the scene, he was working with a panther, and the panther started acting a little strange. Unaware that his foot was cut and that the panther was smelling blood, he was surprised when the panther started acting very aggressive. Even the trainer couldn't figure out the problem until he noticed Steve's cut foot. He told Steve, "You better get that cut looked after before you become 'Kimbar Meal of the Jungle'."
Just as you would expect, Steve wore only a small loin cloth in his Kimbar role, but the television censors wouldn't allow his navel to show. To solve the problem, a leather strap for Kimbar's knife always covered the tell-tale belly button!
By the time the pilot was completed and ready to sell to television, the required length of an episode was 30 minutes, not fifteen. The producer could not gather enough money to shoot the extra fifteen minutes, so the project died, without Steve's knowledge of it.
The filming was completed in late November 1949, and Steve was very pleased with his portrayal of Kimbar. A couple weeks later Steve and some friends were in Hollywood to see the famous Hollywood Lane Parade, a holiday tradition in the Southland. While watching the parade, Steve suddenly saw a huge elephant parading past him. Riding on the elephant was Lex Barker who was the current Tarzan. Steve thought enthusiastically to himself, "Next year it will be me, 'Kimbar' riding in the Hollywood parade." But it was not to be.
During the beginning of 1950, Steve continued his quest to break into the movies. He wasn't getting where he wanted in show business, and felt a little discouraged. He knew he had to get his movie career in motion.
On one occasion, he auditioned with Universal Studios. Because of his bronze tan and smooth skin, the casting people accused him of wearing body make-up and insisted on seeing him without it. Steve took his fingers and ran them across his face and turned him palm towards them and said, "Look, I'm not wearing any make-up." But, not wanting to be corrected, they quickly dismissed him.
A few days later when Steve was at the gym, some of the guys told him, "Why don't you get yourself in shape and win another title? Maybe something will happen for you in another field - forget the movies."
Steve was determined to keep pressing forward and not give up on his efforts to become star, but thought, "Maybe they are right, maybe I'll compete again." He had just learned that the Mr. Universe Contest would take place on June 24 at the Scala Theater in London. After his conversation at the gym, he seriously considered competing again in the Mr. Universe.
George Eiferman was leaving town within a couple of weeks to begin another session of the high school assembly tours he made for the National School Assemblies. At the time, he was driving over 50,000 miles a year throughout the country giving talks to youth about physical fitness, art, music and life. He would play a trumpet (which he learned to play at the Philadelphia Music School Academy!) with one hand, while lifting 110 lbs. over his head with the other hand. It was quite a show!
He was leaving for Pennsylvania and, coincidentally, it was about six weeks before the Mr. Universe contest. George thought it would be great for Steve to travel with him and Steve could train at the York Gym in York, Pennsylvania. He suggested to Steve, "Why don't we drive together? I will do two or three schools a day and afterwards I can meet you at the gym so we can get in a workout." Steve thought it sounded great, but first wanted to talk it over with his girlfriend.
Steve's girlfriend, Barbara Darrow, was a starlet at Universal Studios. After speaking with George, he drove to the studio in his green convertible to pick her up from acting class. Everyone knew Steve so he drove, right into the lot and parked near the building where her class was held.
While waiting for her, he got out of the car and leaned up against it, watching some guys throw a football in the lot across from him. At that time, one of the movies being filmed on the lot was "Sunday Heroes." It was a football movie starring Frank Gifford, who was playing football at the University of California.
As the guys continued kicking and throwing the ball, it bounced over by Steve. He picked it up, and without much effort, punted it back about 70 yards or so. When Gifford saw the ball flying through the air, he was heard remarking, "Who's that guy?" Just then, Steve's girlfriend got into his car and they left.
Steve told Barbara his travel plans. She did not want to see him leave but knew it was what he needed to do. (A few years later, Barbara Darrow married the son of the mayor of Beverly Hills and her uncle, John Darrow, became Steve's agent. Darrow landed Steve roles in the movie, "Athena" and in the play, "Wish You Were Here.")
George and Steve made their arrangements. After packing George's Olds Coupe with a few clothes and all of George's props, they headed cross country to Pennsylvania. They made it a scenic trip, stopping at several of the national parks and really enjoying the drive. It was only five weeks before the Mr. Universe contest when Steve and George arrived in York, Pennsylvania on Memorial Day. In York, they ran into John Grimek and talked to him about the upcoming contest. Grimek invited them to dinner and afterwards helped them find a place to stay.
The next morning, Steve and George walked into the old barbell building where the York Gym was located. Grimek was there and, as Steve started working out he overheard Grimek telling another person, "Hell that kid doesn't have a chance of winning the Mr. Universe." Did Steve have a chance? We'll see next time.
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